Take a break from brown pencil eyeliner and give color a chance! 

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This is part of our weekly series Test Drive, where our team of beauty experts demystify products and tools, and explore new techniques IRL.

My history with brown eyeliner goes way back to my first-ever beauty purchase in seventh grade. It was a twin pack of brown liners ($3, Target), bought with my own babysitting money. When my mom discovered them, I thought I was in big trouble. Instead, she calmly drove us to the mall and marched me to the Clinique counter where I got my first “no-makeup makeup” tutorial. That day, I walked away with a department store eyeliner in a soft brown shade plus, a 3-step skincare system (thanks, Mom!), forever fascinated by beauty products.

Since then, I have discovered that a range of shades beyond brown that work nicely for my own brown eyes. Colors like navy, deep purple, mossy green create contrast without being too flashy for my taste. But I have to admit that, even as a beauty editor with several makeup organizers filled with fun eyeliner options, only the brown pencils were getting any use. A few months of muted, low-key eye definition, I felt, and frankly, looked a little tired. 

Bored by brown and inspired by fall’s bold winged eyeliner trends, I reached out to Amanda Bell, makeup artist and director of artistry and education at Pixi, to help me bust out of my rut. Maybe I wasn’t ready for a negative space eyeliner, but something needed to change. Start with color, suggested Amanda. “Eyeliner is an easy way to experiment with color and ease you out of your comfort zone.” Below, her easy tips for expanding your color palette, as well as techniques to make your eyes look bigger and more awake

applying eyeliner
Credit: Erica Metzger

Combine a Neutral Eyeliner with a Bold One

Rather than switching from a neutral eyeliner and going straight to a bold shade, Amanda suggests using both. For example, start with a “safe” color (such as black, dark brown, or slate gray). Gently blend in the color with a cotton swab then glide a statement color (think gold, berry, or cobalt blue) and apply on top of the blended out base, says Amanda. You can also apply your regular shade on the top lid and your statement color going on the lower lash line to create a subtle color contrast, says Amanda.

For a neutral liner try Charlotte Tilbury Pillow Talk Eye Liner ($27, Charlotte Tillbury). What I love about this berry shade is that it’s borderline brown, so I’m in my comfort zone, but the rose tones to punch up the neutral factor and brighten my eyes.

NYX Retractable Eyeliner in deep blue ($5.50, NYX) is a dark blue liner that is like denim or navy, which makes it basically a neutral. The creamy formula has a lot of pigment, which is pretty impressive considering the price point.

Use a Pastel Eyeliner as a Highlight

Highlighting isn’t just for your cheekbones. The radiance-boosting makeup technique works for eyes too. Use a lilac or champagne pencil in the very inner corner of the eyes and also on the rim of the lower for a delicate brightening effect, says Amanda.

Try the Pixi Endless Silky Eye Pen in Brightening Lilac ($12, Target) for a pearly, slightly iridescent liner on a clean lid with a few coats of black mascara. It instantly gives my eyes a fresh, wide-awake look.

Resize Your Eyes with Black and Peach Liner

My eyes are on the medium-to-small size and deep set, so heavy or dark liner can quickly make them appear to shrink. But that doesn’t mean I can’t use black liner, says Amanda. “If you frame the eyes with a dark pencil all of the way around, it makes eyes appear smaller. Switch to lining the upper and lower lids three quarters of the way across instead of fully.” Amanda’s second suggestion: Incorporate peach liner on the inner rim of the eye to make them appear larger, then lining the upper rim of the eye with black liner. “This balances out the effect and makes the lashes appear fuller & thicker,” she says.

For a great black liner, try Makeup By Mario Master Pigment Pro Pencil in Super Black ($22, Makeup by Mario). I always soften black liner with a tiny smudge brush after I use it so the line isn’t too harsh. This creamy black pencil has a blending brush the opposite end, so it’s one less tool I need in my kit.

Flower Beauty Forever Wear Eye-Lighter ($8, Flower Beauty) is an affordable peachy eyeliner that is wonderfully versatile. I apply it to my waterline (that little rim above your lower lashes), but you can also use it to highlight your inner eye corners and brow bone, too.


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